Coffee For Runners

Coffee for runners

Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

Coffee For Runners: The Benefits of Caffeine for Athletes

If you participate in sports competitions regularly, it’s likely you would’ve heard athletes discuss the use of caffeine for performance-enhancing benefits. Just walk down a busy street with coffee shops near popular running or biking trails on a weekend morning, and you’ll often find cycling or run groups having a brew. Coming from Australia, coffee is a big deal. In Melbourne and Sydney in particular, Coffee is an art. You could spend a whole day exploring different coffee roasters and the varied eclectic atmosphere they create for you to sit and enjoy your brew. I’ve enjoyed exploring coffee shops in my new city, Boise.

Caffeine For Runners: Is Caffeine good for runners?

Caffeine is often recommended for runners as it can have a slight performance-enhancing effect if the individual times their ingestion correctly to their race/event start time and correctly for the duration or distance of the race. Caffeine can cause an upset stomach, better known as G.I distress for runners if the athlete is not used to coffee when training. However, if the individual is able to take on board coffee, their awareness, alertness, the focus can increase and their perception of effort may be decreased. What’s not to love about that? I’m personally a big fan of coffee before racing.

Here’s an even niftier trick you can consider which I came up with whilst out on a  long run one Sunday morning. I practice this regularly to get the optimum race-day advantage. As a regular coffee drinker, many would agree that we become slightly immune to the effects of coffee over time. Considering this, I only drink decaffeinated coffee and tea, or no coffee at all, up to 5 days before a race. Whether it is a placebo effect or not, I can’t be sure, but I know I definitely feel the effects of the caffeine when I drink coffee on race day after no coffee for a few days (a temporary coffee fast, you could call it). On the day of the race, if it is an early start time, I take on board 2 shots, and if it is in the evening, up to 3. I’m buzzing and ready to go!

The only drawbacks of using caffeine is the risk of GI distress, the need to urinate and potential jitters. Getting the jitters isn’t such a big issue for distance runners, as our sport doesn’t require us to be still to execute a good performance (unlike an archer, or 100m sprinter on the start-blocks, for instance). To avoid GI distress, we train the stomach in practice to be able to handle varying amounts of caffeine, well before race day.

Should I drink Caffeine before a run?

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For many runners in particular, including myself, coffee is a big part of my morning routine before training or races. One study evidently highlighted that more than two-thirds of Olympians use caffeine as a pre-workout supplement.  In the hotter months, particularly when temperatures can hit 45 degrees C or 100+ Fahrenheit here in Boise, I’ll reach for the cold brew pre-run. In winter when it is significantly cooler, it’s a double shot latte or Americano. Investing in a coffee machine is your best bet for convenience and financially, especially if you’re a student or student-athlete.

 

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Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

I love how my morning cup of coffee increases my alertness and awareness. Most of the time I find myself running in the mornings within 30-1hr after hopping out of bed (especially in the summer). I’ll pair my coffee with a small snack to help with the digestion of the coffee and satiate my hunger during the training session. A pre-run snack that pairs well with coffee is normally a bowl of cereal with non-dairy milk or toast with jam/honey or nut butter. 

If you’re an individual who believes they can’t eat before or close to a run, I urge you to train yourself to be able to take on board something, including a coffee. Training is time to practice for race day – you can survive a few uncomfortable running sessions in the short term, to invest in optimal long term nutrition.

Does Drinking Coffee make you run faster?

There’s evidence to support the benefits of caffeine in endurance-based sports. Most caffeine supplements are 2-3 shots dense (80-120 milligrams), as this is believed to be the best amount to consume to improve performance. Many online sources discuss using 5mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. With 1 cup of coffee containing around 95-120 mg of caffeine, you may have to have a double shot or two cups to get the full effects. 

Coffee works to improve your performance in a few ways. Most notably, it can reduce your perceived levels of exertion during difficult endurance activities, including running.

When should I drink coffee before a race?

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Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

Caffeine has a pretty short-acting effect, so from personal experience, I like to have 1 shot an hour out from the race, and another shot 30 minutes before. I take these in caffeine strips such as Revvies (https://www.revviesenergy.com/) in which each strip is equivalent to one shot of coffee. This reduces any chance of stomach upset which might be experienced if a coffee, particularly one with dairy milk, is ingested too close to the gun time. I’ll have 1 strip 30 minutes before the race, and 1 just before I line up for the race if I’m using Revvies. 

The stomach can also be trained to take caffeine on board close to a race. I can have a black coffee with a dash of milk up to 45 minutes before an event, as long as I ensure I get to the bathroom before the start, this is no issue for me. I’m firing and ready to run fast!

The best way to practice caffeine intake and experiment with supplements is during training phases/periods. You can afford to make mistakes during these times – this is why it is called practice! Mastering your nutrition needs as an athlete doesn’t happen without trial and error. 

Best Caffeine Supplements for Runners

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For a great, convenient pre-race option (especially for Aussie based athletes, as this brand is AUS based), I use Revvies Energy Strips. They are super simple to take, simply place a strip on your tongue and allow it to dissolve. It and can be taken during a run, and right up until the start of a race. Talk about convenience! If you’re sensitive to caffeine, 1 strip is generally enough, however, if you’re a regular drinker, 2 strips are better. Revvies don’t recommend consuming more than 5 strips a day. They have 2 flavors – Arctic Charge and Tropical Hit. I personally like Arctic Charge best as it reminds me of a piece of mint gum. 

Run Gum is a popular worldwide caffeine supplement used by athletes. Unlike Revvies, Run Gum is exactly what it says it is…a gum. You chew it for 5-10 minutes to effectively absorb the caffeine, b-vitamins, and taurine ingredients in the gum. Run Gum states that this immediately boosts alertness and energy, without causing stomach upset. 

In terms of general caffeine supplements, I really like Tailwind. They pride themselves on natural, organic supplements that are anti-doping approved (remember to always check your supplements on GlobalDro – this is the responsibility of the athlete).  For a recovery based option containing caffeine, I have used their ‘Caffeinated Coffee Rebuild’. This is great for post-session when you need a kick-start to your day. It helps to replenish depleted glycogen stores, rebuild muscles, and restore electrolytes to your body. I like to blend my sachets into a smoothie to go on my way to work, class, or morning errands. This sachet is made with organic rice protein, healthy fats from coconut milk, and a few carbohydrates added for recovery purposes (3:1 ratio of protein to carbohydrates within 30minutes of exercise is the optimal timing for recovery according to Accredited Sports Dieticians). Get yours here. 

Caffeine Gels For Running

 

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Image: Pro Image Photography, Idaho

Gels containing caffeine are a great way to consume more caffeine on top of your normal cuppa pre-run or top up your caffeine stores whilst you’re out running, biking, swimming etc. 

From personal experience, I would practice in training and sessions using different brands of caffeinated running gels to ensure you don’t have a stomach upset on race day, and train the body to digest it effectively. This is because the rate of caffeine absorption and the effects vary from person to person. Maurten, a reputable sports nutrition company state that this varies based on weight and how used to caffeine the individual is. 

Maurten is an extremely popular brand, with Eluid Kipchoge to thank for a large amount of promotion when he used the brand to fuel his victory in the 2018 Berlin Marathon. They recently released a gel known as GEL100 CAF, containing 100mg of caffeine per serving, and 25g of carbohydrates for some extra fuel whilst you’re on the run. The great thing about this caffeinated hydrogel is it is preservative, artificial flavor and colorant free. All these nasty additives can cause stomach upsets which are unwelcome come race day.  Get a box of 100 servings here. 

 

Strava Premium Review: A Guide to Strava Premium

 

Strava premium review

Strava recently made some changes to Strava Premium, which is known as Strava Summit. Some of the most well-loved features are now for subscription only members. In this post, I’ll review Strava Premium, and consolidate at the end whether it is worth the small cost. You’ll have probably made your decision by then, anyway. 

I want to deviate for a bit and mention how I recently listened to an interview with Noah Kagan and Mark Gainey, one of the co-founders of Strava. Gainey discussed the early growth and scaling strategies of Strava – give it a listen here. What caught my attention most is how Strava was established with the “inch wide, mile deep” customer focus strategy. Gainey and Horvath value the user experience on Strava more than anything, and this is a testament as to why most Strava features were previously free. 

Gainey explained that their dedicated user base loves not only the Strava platform but the company of Strava itself, and what it represents. They decided to make most of Strava’s previously free features behind the paywall. This is because, for $5 a month (the price of a coffee!), this dedicated user base is very likely to become a premium user. The analytical features, such as route planner, Strava segment creation, and leaderboards are worth it. When I recently read Strava’s Brand Playbook, a quote stood out to me:

“Strava is a community of people devoted to putting effort into their activities. For them, being active is not a chore. It’s part of who they are. They’re people who balance their commitment with real-life” – Strava Brand Playbook

I also listened to Fitt Insider podcast with John Vennare, where he also interviewed Mark Gainey. This is also worth a listen, just click here. 

What do you get with Strava Summit?

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The new structure of Strava Summit unlocks all of Strava’s features, some of which were previously free. They’ve recently integrated some new features too, such as the new “Training” tab in the mobile application which allows you to track and analyze activities on a week-to-week basis. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of Strava Premium v Strava Free, which I pulled from the Strava Website:

strava premium review 3

 

What does Strava Summit do?

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The free version of Strava no longer includes popular features such as route building, segment leaderboards, and advanced performance metrics. Free users will no longer be able to see entire segment leaderboards including specific metric rankings (such as age, gender, weight etc). Free users will receive access to view the top 10 athletes’ rankings on segment leaderboards. 

To break it down (as per the Strava website as a guideline) – if you choose to subscribe to the paid service, you’ll get access to:

Compete in Strava Segments: Compete on mapped out segments (snippets of road/path/trail plotted out as a route on Strava) and compare/keep track of past efforts on these segments. 

 

Strava Segments Premium review

Access to a Training Dashboard/ Training Log: This feature allows you to track your fitness progression, and see what phase of training you’re in. Below is a screenshot of what a training log on Strava looks like with the paid service. You’lll see it plots the longer workouts as bigger circles, and different coloured circles for different activity types (run, swim, hike, bike etc). The total distance is tracked off to the side, and you can see all the previous years of training since you’ve been on Strava. A great digital training diary and backlog!

Strava Training Log

 

To set personal goals: You can set time, distance and performance goals, and track your progress across each. See a screenshot below of what happens when I navigate under the “Dashboard” dropdown menu and hit “My Goals”.

Strava Set A Goal

Analyze your training comprehensively: Through access to power data and HR data, Strava allows you to identify patterns in training and performance. Strava includes a Fitness & Freshness graph, under “Training” drop-down menu. For cyclists, there’s a Best Effort’s power curve graph which can be generated, under the same menu. Here’s a screenshot of my “Fitness & Freshness” Graph. Strava states that they measure this through a combination of relative effort and power-based training load.

Strava Fitness & Freshness

 

Plan and discover new routes: Strava can suggest routes for runs and rides (you can filter it to road/path/trail only on the map feature), based on GPS activity in that geographical area from other Strava athletes. To create a route, you hit the “Explore” drop-down menu and then hit ‘Create a Route’. See a screenshot of the Strava Route Builder Screen below:

strava route builder

 

Safety Beacon: You can share your real-time location with friends and family via the app. This is a nifty extra feature to help you feel safe and supported on runs and rides. 

Access to a personal heat-map: This is an interactive visual map of all your runs and rides that you’ve completed around the world. I personally love this feature, all the highlighted coloured lines show where I’ve run, and the darker means I’ve run those areas more often. Take a look below for a screenshot as an example:

Strava Heat Map

Access to Training Plans: Strava provides access to fitness apps (from acclaimed apps to start-ups) which provide training plans of all sorts – from ultra-running to road cycling. Click here to learn more, and gain access to a database of varied training plans. 

Strava has their own training plans for runners, available here, and for cyclists, here. Alternatively, you can access “Training Plans” via the drop-down menu on the Strava website. 

 

Strava Training Plans for Runners

Strava released a statement in regards to this change and explaining the shift over of most of the popular free features to a subscription service:

“Dedicating Strava to the community is also a commitment to longevity. We are not yet a profitable company and need to become one in order to serve you better. And we have to go about it the right way—honest, transparent, and respectful to our athletes.” 

How much does Strava Premium Cost?

Strava Premium Review

 

Strava have decided to consolidate their package model previously into a single subscription package. Now Strava charges $5.00/month for an annual subscription, with the first 2 months free if users commit to an entire year. Click here to subscribe to Strava Premium if you’re interested. Previously, Strava separated it’s subscription services into packages (incl. Cost break down) such as:

  • Training – (1 yr, $23.99)
  • Safety – (1 yr, $23.99)
  • Analysis – (1 yr, $23.99)

 

You could do combinations of these packs, or subscribe to all three for a year, totaling $59.99. 

Is Strava Summit Worth it?

Well, since all of the features discussed above are, according to seasoned Strava users, the most beloved features, I definitely think it is worth sacrificing the cost of a cup of coffee a month for Strava Premium/Summit. If you enjoyed these features and engaged with them before they were placed behind a paywall, then it is little harm done to subscribe. Plus, there are some perks you could cash in on as a subscriber. See my screenshot below:

 

Strava Perks

I reached the Strava Perks landing page (screen above) through hitting the “Explore” drop-down menu, and then ‘Subscriber Perks’. If you scroll down, there are even more! 

Best Road Running Shoes: The Ultimate Guide to ASICS, Nike, Hoka One One, Brooks and Saucony shoes

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Credit: @thewolfferine Tempo Journal

The Ultimate Guide to ASICS, Nike, Hoka One One, Brooks, and Saucony Road Running Shoes

 

Selecting the right pairs of road running shoes for your everyday jog or training run is super important, as it is likely to be the footwear you’ll spend most of your time training in. Picking the best road running shoes doesn’t have to be tricky. A bit of research can go a long way in making a purchasing decision. Even better if the shoe company will let you order a few sizes to try, and return the ones that don’t fit. Sometimes the small business online running stores will allow you to do this if they are local to your area. 

In this first section of my best road running shoe guide, I explore some of the best road running shoes from two of the most well-known road running shoe brands: Nike road running shoes and Asics running shoes.

In the second section, I’ll discuss Hoka running shoes, Brooks running shoes, and Saucony running shoes. 

Nike Running Shoes

Shoe 1: Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37

                 Side view

 

A well-known and widely used shoe, these guys are an all-around good training shoe. I particularly love using them on the roads and gravel paths. They also do work surprisingly well on trails. I put this down to the neutral structure of the shoe, cushioning in the foam, and flexibility in the upper. Too much rigidity makes the runner prone to an ankle sprain and not enough cushion is uncomfortable on rocky, spiky surfaces. Available in both a normal or wide fit, they cater well to different foot widths. I gathered from the website reviews of the Pegasus 37 that the shoe fits true to size. From running in these shoes personally, I can confirm this. I’ve never had issues that correlate with ‘fit’ when wearing the Pegs. 

In terms of shoe tech, Nike has utilized its ‘Nike React Foam’, which is intended to be cushioned and responsive. I agree, in my opinion, this is a very cushioned shoe, and it is noticeable whilst running. I like to use it for a few of my jogs and mid-length longer runs. I found that the shoe didn’t need much time to be ‘broken in’, which is super nice with my consistent running and takes the stress out of thinking about that aspect of footwear. 

Sole View

I do however want to note that I find when you wear the shoe on a longer run, the foam tends to work better for the next run if you give it a day to ‘recover’. I get around this by alternating the running shoes that I use. The shoe foam seems to have more spring if you don’t use it on back to back days. Nike calls the shoe model’s cushioning system  ‘Nike Zoom’. Nike states that it utilizes “pressurized air and tightly stretched fibers to absorb impact” and return energy to the runner, which in turn reduces the load stress on joints. 

The mesh upper (this is a shoe tech term, referring to the fabric part of the shoe) on the Nike Pegasus 37 is thinner than the Peg 36’s, meaning it is more breathable however still retains the upper flexibility Peg users love. 

It has a 10mm heel drop. A pair of Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 37 is $120USD. Get yours here. 

Shoe 2: Nike Air Zoom Structure 22

Side View

I also use the Nike Zoom Structure 22 shoe alongside the Nike Zoom Pegasus 37 as a part of my training shoe rotation. My foot structure is quite flat (I pronate, a lot!), meaning I’ll often lean toward a shoe that has more structure for a general training shoe. This isn’t as important in a race or speed work shoe purchase decision. The Nike Zoom Structure 22 offers more structural support and less cushion in the sole than the neutral Pegasus 37 shoe discussed above, so it makes for a good alternative shoe choice on every other day. I don’t like to get extremely used to one shoe either, changing it up here and there allows for muscle adaption to a larger variety of scenarios, shoes, and surfaces. 

Nike promotes that the shoe is sleeker and more lightweight. I do agree that the Nike Structure 22 fits my narrow foot better than the model previous, mainly due to the thinner, tighter mesh upper. Nike has made their lacing system on this shoe better than I previously recognized before, as it hugs the top surface of my feet nicely. 

 

Sole View

Nike Structure 22 also has a 10mm heel drop. Interestingly, Nike has integrated what they call crash pad technology into the heel, to reduce the impact on joints, tendons, and ligaments upon foot contact with the ground. It also helps with the over-pronation correction process. I do notice the extra midfoot support in this shoe model, which is no surprise as it is called the ‘structure’ for a reason. 

Nike has integrated their ‘Zoom Air unit’ in the forefoot of this shoe, which provides a low-profile cushioning but retains the desired responsiveness, they explain. This shoe from experience is not as great on trails due to its supportive and structural features. It truly is a road running shoe for everyday use.

A pair of Nike Air Zoom Structure 22 comes in at $120USD. Get your pair here. 

Asics Running Shoes

Shoe 3: ASICS Gel Nimbus 22

Side View

This is arguably Asics best neutral road running shoe for everyday use. I personally have tried the shoe and enjoy it for regular runs. Most Asics shoe users purchase Asics for the GEL, a defining tech feature of the brand’s running shoes. The GEL unit in the heel of the shoe (shown in red in the above image) has the role of cushioning on the down-stride and providing a good level of responsiveness on the kick-back section of the runner’s stride. For most runners, landing on the heel is the first point of contact with the ground in their stride, hence why the GEL is cleverly integrated into the heel of the shoe. Naturally, in human body functioning and biomechanics, the heel is designed to be able to absorb the most shock upon ground contact.

Asics have continued to utilize their trusty Flytefoam propel technology in the midsole of the shoe to enhance energy return. Asics note that their Flytefoam (a mixture of different foam materials) is 55% lighter than industry standards of foam in other running shoes. 

Sole View

Despite being a neutral shoe, Asics still ensures to include a stability piece (shown in black in the image above) underneath the arch of the food. I really enjoyed having this piece integrated, but not dominate the entire mid-section of the shoe as many other training/road running shoes have. It’s modest and effective.

The mesh upper provides adequate breathability and is pretty supportive. More so than the Nike model road shoes. Nike traditionally tends to have less support in their mesh uppers, preferring a more flexible mesh technology fabric. 

The Asics GEL-Nimbus 22 comes in at $150USD. Get yours here. 

 

Shoe 4: ASICS GT-2000 8

 

Side View

Before I started running in college where Nike is our gear sponsor, I swore by Asics GT-2000’s as my training shoe. I still own a pair that I use as apart of my regular shoe rotation. Like its cousin, the Nimbus 22, the GT-2000 8 also re-introduces the famous GEL component in the heel, for cushion and shock absorption. I personally find, that unlike shoes such as the Saucony Kinvara or Hoka One One which have a lot of under heel cushioning, this has a firmer feel underfoot. This is something to keep in mind, based on your own preference. 

This shoe differs from the nimbus as it has extra supportive features, more suited to an over-pronation runner’s foot type. This shoe includes a more aggressive supportive piece in the midfoot section, as you can see in the sole view image (light grey) below. This piece increases the stability and support provided by the shoe to the foot. 

Sole View 

 The lightweight Flytefoam technology is also utilized in the Asics GT-2000 8, just as it is in the Nimbus 22. The mesh is also great from a water-proofing standpoint. It is lightweight, provides good cover to the foot but also is very breathable. 

This shoe is a training shoe for everyday use, best suited to the roads and gravel paths. From personal experience, it doesn’t do well on trails and uneven surfaces. This is because the midfoot piece doesn’t allow for much flexibility and reactivity when making contact with rocky surfaces. It also gets slashed up. This happened to me. I now buy trail-specific shoes. Like the other road running shoes I have discussed, this shoe has a 10mm heel drop.

 A pair of Asics GT-2000 8 comes in at $120. Get your pair here. 

 

Best Road Running Shoes Guide Part 2: Hoka One One, Brooks and Saucony

After looking at some of the best road running shoes Nike and Asics have to offer, I thought it was also important to look at some other well-known running shoe brands that offer other diverse styles and models. Selecting the right pairs of road running shoes is a very personal experience based on your own goals, foot type, surfaces most often run on, and race + training distances and mileage. There’s a lot to consider. By writing these best road running shoe guides, featuring shoe tech descriptions, reviews, and my own personal experience, I hope to make the decision process a bit easier for you. 

In this second section of the best road running shoe guide, I explore some of the best road running shoes from three of the most well-known road running shoe brands: Hoka One One running shoes, Brooks running shoes, and Saucony running shoes. 

Hoka One One Running Shoes

Shoe 1: Hoka Clifton 6

Side/Front on View

 

Hoka One One is best known for its well-cushioned running shoes. The Hoka Clifton 6 is a great road running shoe, as the cushioned sole provides a softer ride and reduces the stress impact of concrete/tar roads on the joints. Did you know that the body must absorb 6x your body weight in shock when your foot makes contact with the ground when running? Crazy huh, so it’s always good to have a bit of cushion on your everyday road running-specific shoes. It could potentially minimize stress injury risk. 

The shoe is neutral in terms of stability – if you look at the sole view image below you’ll see that there are no dominating stability pieces integrated into the shoe sole or midfoot as such. This doesn’t necessarily mean the shoe isn’t a good fit for an over-pronator/more flat-footed runner. I personally have a foot that is labeled ‘over-pronator’, however, I prefer to run in neutral running shoes and place a custom orthotic/form-orthotic in the shoe for biomechanical adjustment purposes. 

Sole View 

Interestingly, the heel-to-toe drop on this road running shoe is 5mm, compared to the usual 10mm in the Nike and ASICS road running shoes I reviewed in the first post of this series. 

I wanted to point out the change in the upper Hoka One One has integrated into their new Clifton 6 model. Hoka has addressed complaints of the fit in the upper by improving the lacing and lockdown system. From my experience working in running specific stores in Australia, I found that Hoka shoes tend to fit wider feet better. The Hoka One One Speedgoat was the best fitting Hoka shoe for my narrow feet. This is something to consider.  

A pair of Hoka One One Clifton 6 comes in at $130USD. Get your pair here.

Shoe 2: Hoka Carbon X-SPE

Side View

This shoe is one of Hoka One One’s latest releases and boasts features such as reactive, energy-returning cushioning, and a carbon plate (hence the name Carbon X-SPE). I personally tried a pair of these a couple of days ago. I immediately noticed that they are extremely cushioned, the upper does not provide much support, and they feel very light under-foot.

This shoe was released in response to major brands such as Nike, releasing the various Vaporfly models. It’s a new kind of racing flat, very non-traditional in a sense. What we are seeing today is highly cushioned long-distance road racing shoes that have a ‘sweet spot’ on the sole of the shoe to gain maximum propulsion when the foot makes contact with the road. 

Hoka One One explains that this shoe is extremely lightweight (8.7oz for a Size 9 shoe), with the usual Hoka signature rocker design, optimal for a smooth gait and road running purpose. The foam was designed to integrate comfort with speed. Comfort is a really important factor in Hoka – it is what the customer looking for a Hoka is seeking when they try on a pair. The top layer of foam has comfort in mind, whilst the bottom layer and the lightweight carbon plate are engineered to optimize propulsion/energy return for the runner. 


Sole View

The upper is quite different from other Hoka shoes on the market, as they have decided to model off other brands and integrate a mesh bootie. The upper is also tongue-free, which prevents possible discomfort from rubbing or bunching ( I personally love this feature, I’ve had issues with the tongue of running shoes before.) 

The one review which I found on the website explains that these shoes are well suited to long-distance road running, and road races specifically from 10k to the marathon. The 5mm heel to tow drop is more modest than other road running shoes I have explored in these blog posts, which supports its purpose as a road racing shoe. 

The Hoka One One All Gender Cabron X-SPE shoe retails for $200. Get yours here.

Brooks Running Shoes 

Shoe 3: Brooks Glycerin 18

Side View

The new model of the Brooks Glycerin 18 features better cushioning (a trend found in most new road running shoes being released on the market at present) and more room to move in the upper part of the shoe. The integration of increased stretch in the upper will allow more varied foot types to fit this Brooks model, which increases the potential suitable market for the shoe. This shoe is a neutral shoe, best suited to a neutral foot type, or an over-pronator who may use an orthotic or corrective piece. I do know that this shoe has a fairly high arch, which is something to take into consideration if you prefer a shoe that feels ‘flatter’. This may be a good shoe for foot types that do require some extra arch support. 

Like most road running shoes I’ve looked at, the Brooks Glycerin 18 has a heel to toe drop of 10mm. Interestingly, it is fairly lightweight for an everyday road trainer, at only 9oz for a mid-range size of the shoe. 

Sole View

From a technical side, the midsole (foam part of the shoe) has utilized more of Brooks’ DNA LOFT midsole foam technology to increase cushioning. Brooks also desired a shoe with more traction this time around as you can see on the Sole View of the shoe I’ve included above. 

What is DNA LOFT midsole technology? Brooks explains that it is a mix of EVA foam, rubber, and air. Their latest shoes are meant to be their softest and most forgiving yet. If you enjoy a cushioned, soft underfoot feelings, with a bit of arch support – check these shoes out. 

The Brooks Glycerin 18 is available for $150USD, get your pair here.

 

Shoe 4: Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20

Side View 

Brooks has been releasing Adrenaline GTS model shoes for 20 years now, so they’ve had quite a while to re-think the design of the shoe but keep the same features Adrenaline users love, apparent. What’s new in this shoe is Brooks ‘GuideRails’ support technology. 

GuideRails Technology 

GuideRails are described by Brooks to have a supportive function, “minimizing deviation of excess knee movement (which) can help stabilize your run”. Guiderails hug either side of the heel in the upper part of the midsole structure. See the image above from the Brooks website. When the foot makes contact with the ground, the Guiderails prevent an inwards collapse of the knee, which compromises stability, form, and therefore the whole kinetic chain. 

Sole View 

Everyone I’ve met who has used a Brooks Adrenaline seems to really enjoy the shoe. Unlike the Neutral Glycerin, this shoe is more supportive in design and has a higher heel to toe drop of 12mm. Similarly, it also features DNA LOFT technology in the bottom part of the midsole and boasts cushioning as all the new lines of Brooks’ shoes seem to do. 

 

Brooks has improved the mesh upper to be more lightweight, by structuring it to streamline and hug the foot better. 

One review I read explained how they loved the cushioning in the heel and the comfort features of the shoe. Another user said that their feet are highly arched and structured, and the shoe gave them feet aches. This is likely due to the shoe being too structured for this particular runner’s foot type. Another runner described the new mesh design as more snug, and the lacing system didn’t require super tight lacing to hold the foot nice and secure.

A pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 comes in at $130USD – they’re available online here.

Saucony Running Shoes 

Shoe 5: Saucony Triumph 17

Side View

The Saucony Triumph 17 is Saucony’s most cushioned shoe, designed for long runs. The protective cushioning is intended to return energy for economical running and reduce load impact on the runner’s joints – potentially assisting in injury prevention and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs). The shoe has an 8mm heel to toe drop and is designed for a neutral foot type. This shoe isn’t a shoe for a foot that needs a ton of support but could work well if you’re looking for beginner’s long-distance road racing shoes due to the comfort and cushioning factors. 

Sole View

Saucony notes that the cushioning in this shoe is 28% lighter than their previous best-cushioned shoe. This is a feature of Saucony’s new shoe technology from the end of 2019  – PWRRUN+. They note that this foam is extra springy, absorbing 5% more impact than their previous foams, enhancing the energy return of the shoe. They also note the increased flexibility, allowing “for powerful take-offs” and “softer landings”. Durability is also a key factor – they stress that this foam lasts longer, which potentially could increase the mileage life of the shoe. 

Interestingly this foam isn’t EVA based like most road running shoes. They explain that PWRRUN+ features are more adaptable, flexible, and responsive to the runners foot and gait. 

The Saucony Triumph is available online for $150. Get your pair here.

 

Shoe 6: Saucony Guide 13

Side View 

The Saucony Guide 13 is one of the company’s more structured road running shoes, great for logging training miles. Saucony explains that this shoe provides a great balance of cushioning and stability/supportive features – the best of both worlds. The great thing about this shoe is that it is very versatile. I’ve tried it on gravel roads, single-track trail (not the super rocky kind), roads, and grass. It works well on each. The shoe suits a foot type that requires more support, due to the integrated stability features. I myself have flat feet (over-pronate), but enjoy a bit of cushion. Therefore, a shoe balanced with cushion and support, like the Saucony Guide, suits my needs. 

Sole view

From a shoe tech standpoint, like the Triumph, it also has an 8mm offset and PWRRUN cushioning technology which I discussed earlier. What is different between the Triumph and the Guide is the medial TPU guidance frame. TPU stands for thermoplastic polyurethane – which is lightweight, longer-lasting, and extremely durable compared to most other outsoles (the bottom part of a shoe). Saucony explains that this assists the natural gait cycle of the runner.

The upper is designed with FORMFIT technology – this is in place to allow the shoe to fit a wide variety of foot types (wide, narrow, toebox and heel discrepancies etc). 

Right now the Saucony Guide 13 is on Sale for $89.95 USD down from $120. Get your pair here.

 

Strava Clubs Case Study: How to create a Strava Club for your business

strava clubs case study

Strava Club Case Study: How to create a Strava Club for your blog or business

I decided to create a Strava Club and promote it, to learn the most effective way to execute this process for a small business or company, and also for a little bit of fun. I now have my very own Strava club Wild For Trails–  connected to this blog (larahamilton.com). In this post I’ll guide you through how to create a club on strava, strava club widgets, strava challenges in strava clubs, and setting up a strava marketing strategy utilizing strava clubs.

The goal of my club is to connect athletes internationally and locally (in Boise and in Sydney – my two home cities), provide a platform for camaraderie and education, and set up/facilitate live activity meet ups in Boise and Sydney when I am in the localities. I’m super excited to keep this club running (pun intended) and watch it grow. 

Strava Clubs 5

This process proved to me that a Strava Club can be easily set up for a business or brand, opening up a new platform to engage athletes with your product or label. I recently read this awesome article which honed in on some relevant stats surrounding the growth of Strava. It’s truly fascinating. 

 

Strava is “growing at 1 million per month as of July 2019. In that year’s Tour de France, 120 of the 176 riders regularly log rides in Strava”. 

Chris H – Harvard Business School Student Article

 

If you’re a sport-focused brand, company, or business wonder, you’d be silly not to create and grow a Strava presence. Check out my post on Strava for Business here, which walks you through the how to’s, essential features of setting up a Strava Business account or Strava Partnership. If you’d like to contact me so I can personally walk you through the steps or help you set up a Strava Business Plan – click here.

What is a Strava Club?

A Strava club is essentially like a real-world sporting club but facilitated online via Strava, complete with statistical features, scheduled club runs, club competitions, and challenges (known as Strava Challenges). Clubs can be created for any sport or multiple sports that Strava supports. Clubs can be in the form of:

  • Real-life local clubs that want an online Strava presence or post their events on Strava to publicize them
  • Brand affiliated/Strava Partnership Clubs
  • An online-only virtual club

I decided to create a club connected to the larahamilton.com running blog to experience the set-up process myself and learn how a brand or business may do the same. This is a screenshot of my homepage for the Wild For Trails Strava Club.

strava club wild for trails

I invited members to my club by clicking ‘Invite Athletes’ on the right.

How do I join a Club on Strava? – Creating a Community 

The great thing about Strava Clubs is many groups or brands have their club page primarily based on Strava. Strava attains so many new users simply by athletes wanting to join a local club and therefore joining Strava so they can see the scheduled group meet-ups and join in the friendly Strava Challenge competitions. If your brand or business has a club on Strava, you can invite members to join as per above. 

I want to walk through the simple steps of how users find and join a Strava club. I first go to ‘Explore’ at the top drop-down menu of the Strava homepage. See the screenshot below.

Strava club 1

The next page that pops up will be the Strava Club search page. I wanted to search for all running clubs in Boise. So I typed ‘Boise’ into location, and hit the running check-circle, then hit ‘search’.

Strava Club search screenshot

I decided I want to join the local running store club – Shu’s Idaho Running Company. I clicked their blue URL title, and then on their page, I clicked ‘Join Club’ in bright orange under the description. It’s that simple! See the screenshot below.

Shu's idaho run club join

Promoting Your Strava Club

The most effective way to promote your Strava club is to first grow your athlete member count. This is most effectively done via:

  • Inviting athletes physically via the Strava Club page
  • Word-of-mouth spreading via Group Strava Events (physical presence)
  • Setting Strava Challenges – The completion banner, badges on your club member’s pages, virtual trophy symbol, brand tailored segment, and the leaderboard will promote your brand naturally
  • Provide Incentives for Challenge completion – Brand prizes, discounts, access to online resources etc
  • Running Facebook Ads directly to your brand club homepage or next club event (send them straight to a ‘product’ or live event, in this sense)

 

I’ll explore these other strategies below:

  • Pinterest pins directed to the club page 
  • Post Content on Strava
  • Inserting a Strava Widget onto your personal blog or company website. 

 

Pinterest pins are a unique but interesting way to drive traffic to your club page, and potentially gain new Strava users utilizing your brand as the segway for the athlete onto Strava. On Canva, I created this pin, which links directly to my club page:

strava club wild for trails 1

I then targeted Strava related keywords searched for on Pinterest and placed them in the description of the pin. This pin is linked directly to my personal blog also. I want the Strava Club, my personal running blog, and the Pinterest pin to be interconnected to best optimize the promotion of my club. This exact growth strategy could be applied to your brand. Contact me to learn more about forming a Strava Business Strategy here.

Content posting is a must. It is how we keep the discussion board alive on the club page, and it will appear in your club members/athletes activity feed as a notification, in a sense. See the screenshot below of the club post page, accessed via the club page. 

 

strava club wild for trails 3

This content is directly from my personal blog, I just shared it on Strava as well. Brands with personal blogs and content can create Strava posts with content directly from their site. It takes the thinking out of the process and further promotes your brand on the platform. On the top right of the screenshot above, you can click the button to ‘Post Content’. 

 

Strava Club Content posting

 

Inserting a Strava Widget onto your website is super simple. On the club page, to the right on the bottom, you’ll see ‘Share [Club Name]’s Runs’ – click this. See the screenshot below.

strava club wild for trails 4

 

This will pop-up. See the screenshot below.

 

You’ll want to embed the URL to either on or both of the Widget into the Footer of your website. (I found this to be the best, least disrupting to your website layout design). When you refresh your website pages and scroll to the bottom, you’ll see these 2 widgets (I embedded both) on the page. See the screenshot below for an example from my website.

Strava Widgets1

 

This is another great way to promote your brand or business Strava club via a website platform.

Strava Club Challenges: Can I create my own challenge on Strava?

Strava clubs 2

Challenges encourage users to engage with the application and consistently check in with the app to see how their effort or multiple efforts/attempts for the challenge are faring over time. 

This is a win-win for both Strava, the brand, and the athlete. Strava is publicized as the challenge spreads on the platform and via word of mouth (trust me, in Bosie alone I have heard the Boise Summit Series mentioned in various venues across town over 5 times – in active communities these spread like wildfire). This draws new users on to the platform so they can complete the incentivized challenges, and in many cases earn prizes affiliated with the brand or local companies the club page is trying to support. Boise Summit Series paired up with local breweries for one of their challenge prizes. 

In the screenshot below, I completed one of my challenges on my morning run. The badge appears below the stats as you can see. If you’re a brand labeled challenge, this is great publicity for your brand. My morning run with the Strava challenge completion banner will appear on my personal activity feed, promoted to all my followers. They can click into the challenge via the banner.

strava activity upload

 

Other types of challenges require donations to a charity cause, or an entry fee for a virtual run often in return for a mail-delivered finishers medal or brand-affiliated discounts. 

An example of a virtual race with an entry fee, Strava club, and finisher prizes is the SeaWheeze virtual half marathon and 10k (originally a real-life race, gone virtual).

Strava virtual race

 

You can join the run club on Strava as you can see in the bottom right (click here to do so), where your training and race effort will be posted. You can also see other motivated athletes working towards completing the challenge too. 

Strava virtual run 1

 

Users get a unique badge for their virtual Strava trophy cabinet and a finishers medal posted to their door, along with other cool prizes listed on the rego page. You can register for the SeaWheeze Virtual Running Race here. 

Since COVID-19, challenges have become more popular than ever, as have Strava virtual runs which can easily be set up utilizing set routes with Strava Segments. This works via GPS Sports watch connection to the Strava app, which recognizes the route run, and uploads the athlete’s effort for that particular route onto Strava. See my screenshot below of a past Virtual Run I completed hosted by the Strava Club – ‘Pace Athletic’. They utilized the Spit to Manly Strava Segment. 

 strava segment

Strava then places the athlete’s activity/effort onto a leaderboard under the segment or set route.

Strava Segment 1

 

The Pace Athletic Strava Run Club could then determine their winner based on the top Strava Segment times posted at the end of the challenge, as shown on the leaderboard. Strava categorizes these leaderboards automatically if the challenge has a gender, age, weight class category, etc (as you can see in the bottom right of the screenshot above). This is a great example of a local running business establishing a Club Challenge to promote their brand, services, and spread camaraderie associated with the brand. I personally completed this challenge and won’t forget it for a while – it is great real-time marketing, connecting dedicated and motivated athletes directly with the business or brand. 

Plus, it’s free to do

Strava Club Events

I decided to create a test event on my club page – it was very simple and is a great way to create face-to-face relationships with other members of your club. If you’re a brand, setting up brand affiliated club events is essentially like putting a face to the brand. If you know anything about marketing, this is a must. To add a club event – on your club page hit ‘add club event’. 

Strava Club event

 

Next, a club event pop-up form will appear. See my screenshot below.

Strava club event form

Fill this form out, and voila – you’ll create a club event that looks a bit like this one I created shown below.

Strava Club event 3

 

Strava is pretty snazzy and lists all the club events you’re attending on your activity feed and profile, alongside all the challenges you’re in the process of completing. See my screenshot below for an example. It’s in the top right corner.

Strava profile

 

You can promote your club event on your personal or brand activity feed, and even share it on socials. See the screenshot below of the event page. One the right you’ll see ‘Share & Invite Friends’.

Strava Event

On the mobile application, when you hit this button, this will appear. It’s great that you can even send the group event run out via text, airdrop or Facebook messenger app.

Strava Club Run

 

Strava Clubs Privacy Settings

Strava allows you to make your club open to all, private, or women only. When you first set-up your club, you’ll see this option at the bottom of the pop-up widget. 

If you want to learn more about how to set-up and grow your brand on Strava, contact me here.

If you’d like to join Wild For Trails – a community for trail fanatics (running, mountain biking and hiking) on Strava, click here.

Strava Business: A guide to advertising your brand on Strava

strava business

Strava Business: How to advertise your brand on Strava

Strava is one of the best ways for brands to connect directly with the athlete. Strava Business is a platform that has been established to effectively advertise brands to extremely focused target markets – essentially users already engaging with the products. Strava advertising is a must for all sports brands in the future, breaking down geographical and time barriers that could potentially prevent effective athlete-brand connections. The aim is to create a Strava Marketing Strategy.

We are witnessing a shift in the marketing world, where athletic focused advertising is no longer as effective in the form of annoying ‘pop-up, in your face’ ads, but integrated into physical challenges, clubs, and the athletic activity itself. This is a win-win for the business and the athlete. Luckily, Strava Business exists to help brands reach athletes directly. 

What is Strava Advertising?

strava business 1

Strava allows its brands (which they call ‘partners’) that have connected with the platform to establish connections with motivated athletes from all over the world, from many different athletic disciplines, with a variety of goals. That’s a market waiting to be tapped in to. I recommend establishing what your brand goal will be when establishing its presence and forming an athlete-brand based community on Strava. Think creatively. If you’re a sports watch brand, you can use Strava to highlight particular activities and segments to promote a certain model of your watch. Polar has done this, and Strava wrote a case study on it which you can read here.

In my screenshot below from a Parkrun, I completed a few years ago, I even listed the watch I was using – A Garmin Forerunner 735XT. This is a form of brand exposure via an athlete on Strava. See it like this – if a well-known athlete with a large number of Strava followers completes a race, the activity upload is going to get a lot of traffic. The traffic/athletes viewing the activity can see what gear the athlete used, and are more likely to go out and buy the same gear.

strava business 2

Athletes on Strava are diverse. There are road runners, trail runners, track runners, cyclists, swimmers, hikers, kayakers, surfers, skiers.  The list is long, and they’re all on Strava. I personally follow athletes from all of these disciplines and also use my own Strava for running, swimming, cycling, skiing, and surfing. These connections can be formed via:

  • Establishing sponsored virtual challenges for athletes 
  • Creating clubs athletes can join – these form communities which brands can directly engage with. 
  • Just as on Instagram and Facebook you can directly engage with athletes. Whether this is via ‘Kudos’ (Likes), commenting on activity uploads, finding athletes on leaderboards from segments and routes, shared activity uploads. These features are all a part of the camaraderie and fun that have allowed Strava to build a platform of over 50 million athletes from 195 countries. 
  • Sponsored Integrations 

 

I’ll break down these components of Strava Business for effective Strava Advertising below. 

Strava Challenges: Sponsored Challenges to introduce and engage your audience

Strava Challenges allow your brand to directly engage with athletes and keep your brand at the forefront of their minds. Athletes thrive off challenges, and its a cyclical process too. Once we complete one challenge, we become hungrier for the next. Trust me, I’m one myself. We don’t settle, and the motivation and friendly competition Strava fuels with its challenge leaderboards, kudos, commenting feature, and reward incentives only fuel the fire. See the screenshot below of an example of a UK based club challenge I’m currently completing from the US/Australia. The 2020km in 2020!

strava business 3

I noticed that they’re currently advertising a club event (see the blue URL link) – a virtual monthly 5k race. I clicked the link, and was taken to this page, where I could join the race and even invite friends to join me:

strava business 4

As a brand club page, you could set challenges just like the one above.

Challenges are completely customizable. You can choose:

  • The duration of the challenge – it could be 1 week or 1 month
  • Age – you have the option to open the challenge to certain age groups only
  • Who can enter – it can be a private club challenge, or open to all of Strava. You choose your field. 
  • Gender competing – can decide to have all race results compiled as one, or categorized into gender results. 
  • The sport for your challenge – eg. running, swimming, cycling
  • The style of your challenge – it could be run a half-marathon as fast as you can, complete this specific trail route as fast as you can, or run for 20 hours this month. Be as creative as you like with this. The more diverse you can offer, the better. 

Challenges facilitate the process of continual user-brand re-engagement. By setting regular and interesting challenges, and providing reward incentives, users stay interacting and engaging with the brand and motivated to virtually compete. Clubs can post challenges by posting on their club page and inserting a segment link at the end of their post. See the screenshot below from the Boise Summit Series Club Page for a brief example:

strava business 5

 

Challenges increase brand exposure and therefore new potential customers. Other Strava users can see their friends complete challenges through activities posted in their feeds, and friends also get notified when their fellow athletes join a challenge. Strava will then ask if you’d personally also like to join the challenge with a simple click of a box in your personal activity feed.

strava business 6

Another perk is that the Athlete’s personal profile/dashboard has a featured gallery of the current challenges they are participating in, alongside a virtual trophy cabinet presenting the challenges they have completed. Athletes can track their progress in a challenge anytime, via their personal profile, activity upload, or on a club page. Athletes will also tend to post their challenge completion on socials – even better for your brand.

 

strava business 7A screenshot of a segment (route) that is being used as a virtual trail race on Strava, facilitated by the Boise Summit Series Club.

Strava Challenges are a new form of sports-focused advertising. The brand in a sense, is the instigator for the athlete to continue participating in challenges and setting new goals. This is motivational and has a positive influence on potential customers. This is very different to a traditional marketing advertisement. 

Challenges facilitate a community brand experience for athletes. Athletes will begin to associate a positive and ‘human’ feeling to the brand. It won’t seem like just another label. With Strava, this is often one of fun, camaraderie, and friendly competition. 

You can reward your participating athletes and community – challenges have incentives. Athletes who complete the challenge will receive a finisher’s badge in their digital trophy case, displayed on their profile.

strava business 8

You could also choose to offer product discounts, such as online store discount codes, race entries, tailored experiences. I’ve even seen local club based challenges offer physical prizes. I personally won a challenge and collected a physical prize in-store. The store had set-up its own Strava running club, complete with challenges and prizes. 

Using Strava Challenges to promote your brand is an extremely effective and innovative way to engage a community that has already established a common interest in the sport, they likely have similar goals alongside drive and determination to take on new challenges.

On their website, Strava explains the benefits of sponsored Strava challenges are brand building, meaningful customer interactions, and conversions. I’ll explain in my own words below: 

  • Brand building – Think of it like driving new traffic (customers) to the brand, and capturing their attention.
  • Meaningful customer interactions – provide content they can engage with, and then interact with the community. 
  • Conversion – We nurture the athletes to further engage with the brand and be a part of the larger brand community. 

 

Strava Clubs: Cost-effective athlete-brand strategy

Strava clubs are free to create. This is one of the most cost-effective strategies to promote your athletic or sports brand on the internet and more specifically – social media platforms. Strava has cleverly taken the idea of a physical sports ‘club’ – complete with a community feel, camaraderie, friendly competition, organized events, members from all walks of life and with similar interests – and made it a virtual reality. This breaks down geographical walls and therefore expands brand exposure to athletes remarkably. 

Clubs are very easy to set-up. This process is carried out directly through your Strava profile, under the “Explore” tab → “Create a Club” black icon on the top right as shown in the screenshot below. You’ll then be guided through the user-friendly prompts. 

strava business 9

Strava clubs facilitate athletes to engage directly with your brand and feel a part of a larger brand-focused community. This is especially true when your personal Strava Business Brand Strategy involves challenges that can be integrated into your club. Let’s look at Red Bull Australia Club as an example – see the screenshot below:

strava business 10

I can see that some of my Strava friends are also apart of the club, in the right-hand column where it says “2452 members”. I can also see where I rank this week so far, and follow along on other athlete’s training journies who also have an interest in Red Bull Australia and its associated interests (adventure sports, outdoors, action etc). 

Clubs allow you to target both local and international athletes, and can be established for any sport that Strava offers activity logging for. This could be cycling, running, swimming, mountain biking – you name it. The next task is promoting your club on Strava and on your social media platforms. 

Content – Brand Strategy via Strava Clubs – if your brand or organization posts content, such as blogs, you can publish the content directly to the club page, and athletes can choose to share it on their socials. Blog content posting is a must for any brand wishing to grow. Contact me here to learn more about the content-brand strategy. See the screenshot below for an example of content posting in the form of blog content on the Red Bull Australia club page:

strava business 11

Your content will naturally gain exposure on Strava. The platform has established an algorithm that delivers every club post directly to the athlete’s feed. Strava promotes on their website that athletes engage with club posts at higher volumes than traditional social media platforms. This is because Strava is a very athletic-specific social media platform. The members of Strava are already interested in sport, health, and the outdoors – let’s take the guesswork away from targeted advertising. 

Want to join Run Rally?  It’s a Strava club connecting runners locally and internationally that I personally manage. Click here. 

Strava Partnerships or Strava Partner Integrations

Strava Business allows athletes and brands to create ‘Strava Partnerships’, also known as sponsored ‘Strava Partner Integrations’. When we talk about a Strava Partner Integration, we are discussing activities that appear on an athlete’s feed that have a direct association with a Strava partnership brand. For example, a Zwift activity uploaded on to Strava will feature the Zwift banner on the activity itself, in the athletes feed. This will be visible to all the athletes following the Zwift user, and if the activity is labeled as public, it will also appear in any relevant club feeds they have joined. This is maximum brand exposure. 

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Strava has listed a number of brands that they have formed partnerships with on their website. To provide a few examples of well-known Strava partner integrations:

  • Zwift – at-home cycling and run training game that connects these athletic communities virtually.

strava business 13

  • Peloton – at home cycling workouts that boast a live and on-demand feature, and high-quality, professional coaches.

 

  • MindBody – the app that connects people with fitness interests to local and online classes. Whether it’s yoga, strength training, group runs, or spin classes. Mindbody has it. Mindbody connects directly with Strava, to make your activity uploads seamless.

strava business 14

Interestingly, as an activity uploader (the athlete), you have the choice as to whether you want your activity to upload with the recognized partner integration. This is found under Settings → Partner Integrations. 

Strava Community: Exposing your brand to 50 million + users

 

strava business 15

 

Strava explains that its platform allows brands to directly “interact.. with the most engaged community of athletes in the world.” I personally can testify to this, as I use Strava myself, along with most of my Australian teammates. I have email notifications set up to notify me when a Facebook friend signs up to Strava. In light of recent world events, I have had influxes of emails notifying me of friends signing up – not specifically high-level athletes, but from all walks of life! It is essential that your social media marketing strategy is solid in today’s increasingly online-based consumer habits. If you’re a business owner of a sports brand, I can’t stress the importance of establishing yourself on the Strava platform now and get in early before this is the new normal. 

How to Contact Strava and how to take the next steps forward. 

Strava has its own contact form to assist you with Strava Business queries. They specifically ask if you are interested in establishing a Strava Business model targeted at Challenges or forming a club. The form is available by clicking here. 

If you want personally tailored advice on how to effectively establish and grow your brand or small business on Strava, or develop a Strava Business plan strategy – fill out my form here, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Feel free to also join my communal run club on Strava, Run Rally. Click here. 

How to use Strava: A Guide to Basic Strava Set-Up and Strava Premium

 

Strava is the ultimate online social running platform that connects athletes from a variety of sports, most notably running and cycling. Strava is a great way to track your running training, share it with your network, and club (yep, you can join real and virtual clubs), participate in virtual races and challenges and stay connected with your running community. Strava is in app form and also accessible via the website. Strava’s popularity is taking off at present in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it offers athletes a social platform base where they can hold each other accountable, spread camaraderie from afar, and stay motivated. Back in February Strava announced that it has over 1 million new sign-ups every 30 days on this funky blog post where they shared their stats with the community. I personally started using Strava again in February because of these reasons. Many users utilize it to keep track of their training for their coaches to see, and not surprisingly, compare their efforts with other athletes doing the same activity. Competitive humans we are. 

 

How do I set up Strava?

You can sign up to strava.com using a Facebook or Google account, or simply using an email address. I decided to go through the sign-up process again to show you how simple it is to set up an account. Once you’ve selected your medium to create the account from, you’ll be guided to this pop-up:

how to use strava 1

Strava will give you the option to connect your account to Facebook if you wish. The software recognizes any of your friends on Facebook that are already using Strava. Strava will then suggest that you follow your friends on the platform to get your Strava profile and network up and running (pun intended). 

Your Strava page will end up looking a bit like this (I haven’t posted any activities as you’ll see – this is just a test account for this post).

 

how to use strava 3

 

To ‘record your first activity’, you’ll want to connect a GPS running watch to Strava. In the screenshot above, and on your dashboard, you’ll see “Connect Device” in the orange clickable box. Hit that.

 

how to use strava 4

 

The most popular running watch brands that are used with Strava appear to be Garmin and Suunto – both trusted GPS running watch and running technology companies. 

I decided to try connecting my new Strava Dashboard with Garmin, to which I was guided to a Garmin connect page pop-up that looks like this below:

how to use strava 5

 

Sign in to your Garmin account as directed, and you should see this pop-up on your device (see screenshot below):

 

how to use strava 6

 

I recommend switching on both toggles, for the full user-experience on Strava. 

Once your device is connected to Strava, auto-upload will occur between your device app (Suunto or Garmin Connect, if you use either of these watches) – I have and do use both, so these are the platforms I am personally familiar with. 

I’ll now show you my actual account dashboard, including an example of an activity upload. This will demonstrate what stats Strava Free version provides you with (premium is their paid service, as I’ll discuss further below). As an example, I’ll show you my recovery jog and strides stats from this morning which appear on Strava under “My Profile”. This is the main page that correlates all your stats : 

how to use strava 7

 

The bolded text ‘Morning Jog’ and ‘Strides’ is clickable. It will direct you to a comprehensive landing page with even more analytical breakdown. See my screenshot below: 

how to use strava 8

 

I personally enjoy how Strava allows you to interact with their graph feature below the geographical map, by switching the different toggles on and off. If you’re a map lover like myself, it’s pretty neat to see the elevation profile of the route you ran. 

 

Running with Strava Friends 

If you ran with someone else who has Strava and you’re connected on the platform, if they upload their run Strava will connect your activities and show other users that you ran together. See my screenshot below as an example: 

 

how to use strava 9

 

If Strava doesn’t automatically recognize that you ran together, you can always add them in manually. I love looking at my Strava activity upload of a team or club workout and watching all the banter and comments manifest below the activity. 

You can also use the “Strava find friends” feature to find potential connections and invite other athletes to Strava. You can find this feature when you hover over your avatar/logo in the top right-hand corner of your dashboard. The pop-up below will appear: 

 

how to use strava 10

 

What is the best way to use Strava?

 

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Athletes have a variety of reasons for being active users of Strava. For some, it is about staying accountable for their training. For others, it might be about competing with friends, for coaches to track and monitor their athlete’s training program or plan, to discover new routes and trails, or to compete in virtual races. Virtual races are taking off right now, ignited by the recent world events. More and more clubs are posting individual segment challenges with prize incentives. For example, in Boise where I am residing currently, Boise Summit Series release trail segment challenges each week and the prizes are cool, such as a variety tub of locally brewed beer. Boise has a great brewery scene. This is awesome to see, as it builders that community culture in a time where there is a feeling of disconnect, and fosters that much-needed camaraderie and friendly competition at this time. 

You can join clubs easily on Strava – just hit the ‘Explore’ keyword on the top of the screen. See the screenshot below:

 

 

On your “My Profile” page, you’ll see the avatars/logos of all the clubs you are apart of. Like this. I am apart of a large variety of clubs including actual coaching/training clubs I have been apart of, park run groups, brand groups, running store clubs, challenge clubs/virtual run competition clubs, corporate platforms etc:

 

I personally use Strava to track my training each week. In particular, mileage, elevation climbed, (I like to try and hit a certain amount on tougher weeks, to ensure there is variety in my running – no one likes a runner that avoids hills). I also like to look at my pace in routes I have run multiple times to see signs of improvement and analyze paces of my workouts when I wish. Strava is truly handy to see all your stats in one place, and quickly. For example, your goals. You can set mileage/km goals to hit weekly too:

 

You can also average stats (generally not always accurate, don’t count a Strava PR as an actual PR) – only real physical race results are PRs or PBs. A loaded topic, for another time.

 

 

Strava Free v Strava Premium 

 

At the beginning of the sign-up process, you’ll be directed to a pop-up offering a 2 month free trial of Strava premium. See below: 

 

 

 

It is worth doing the free trial (put the date in your calendar in case you don’t want to renew) just to experience the full offering and user experience Strava offers its users. Strava has made some updates very recently to its platform, meaning that you can only compete on segments with other users (and yourself) if you have a premium. 

A segment is a snippet of a route, road, trail, track, etc of a specific distance that has been constructed and labeled on Strava. The great thing about segments is you have a record of all your past efforts on that segment. You may cover multiple segments on one single running route. See the screenshot below for an example of a segment, and a segment leaderboard: 

You can also explore Segments in your area, with Strava’s feature ‘Segment Explore’, under the Explore tab at the top of the dashboard page:

 

 

With Strava premium, you’ll also get access to more analytical resources and therefore more overall data on your dashboard. This includes HR (Heart rate data) and Power Analysis which then allows you to gain an idea of how hard you had to work to produce that particular time, or run that particular session/route at that pace, as an example. 

Strava has also made its Route Discovery and planning features now only available to premium users. Strava suggests routes for you to run or ride, which it determines based on the area you are running and cycling in, combined with the activity uploads of Strava athletes who have done the same activity in that area. See the screenshot below for an example of what the Route creation landing page looks like.

I got to this page via ‘Dashboard’ and “My Routes”:

 

 

For safety, Strava has also included a Beacon feature – if you carry your phone with you when you run or cycle, you can send out a beacon at any time to let your family members know your location and planned route. Great for those runs in unfamiliar areas and on unpredictable terrain, or for the younger and more vulnerable users. 

The Heat Map feature that comes with premium is also pretty cool. You’ll see an interactive map of all the runs and rides you have completed around the world. Nothing super special from an analytical standpoint, but pretty cool aesthetically! 

Luckily, Strava is no more than a good large latte or beer, coming in at just $5/month after your 60-day free trial is up. It is worth sacrificing 1 cup of coffee a month for some of these extra nifty features. Click the link to sign up: https://www.strava.com/subscribe/checkout?package_ids=4%2C5%2C6

Want to join Run Rally –  A Strava club connecting runners locally and internationally? Click here.

 

Smart Running: Training smarter, not harder in times of high stress

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Smart running is how you get the most bang for your buck. It involves the time, mileage, and intensity of your training load each week, recovery time between sessions, how often you race, and what cross-training activities you do to assist with fitness and/or strength. In light of the recent world events which have injected a lot of stress and uncertainty into society and individuals alike, training smarter, not harder, is the way to go for now I do believe. I call it baking a cake. I want to bake a really good cake right now – my base. Then I’ll get ready to ice it later for race season when it eventually comes back around. 

I’ll admit, it took me a while to get to this headspace of tuning in with my body, and not being so rigid or structured with training. I would be lying if I said I didn’t use running as a form of coping mechanism when COVID-19 altered the way we live our lives. I was able to keep up the early mornings, harder sessions a few times a week – basically my normal training load and intensity I was doing during the collegiate season. However, onsetting fatigue and gradual discontent with a high focus on running at this time wasn’t making me happy. Instead, I decided to completely tune in to my body and use my times of higher energy to work harder, and lower energy to settle into long and slow mileage. 

 

I now run at the time of day I best feel like it, not necessarily first thing in the morning like I usually do during school or season. I don’t put pressure on how many sessions a week I do. I’m happy if it’s just 1, and what day it is, doesn’t particularly bother me. I do a few runs with team-mates and friends for the social aspect and pure joy of getting out on the trails. I am fit, not necessarily top end fit, but I don’t need to be right now – that’s not what it is about. I’ll get ready to ice my cake when the time comes. 

This is a lesson for life. Coping mechanisms are unsustainable and will result in fatigue, which then takes time to recover from. If you keep it up, it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle – like a Catch-22. I hope you get the opportunity to cash in on this advantage COVID-19 has given us to build solid values and foundations around what we do and love. All the hard work and base-building, and the personal introspection this time has ignited, will pay off later. I’m certain of it.

Smarter Running and training load: how do you manage your milage?

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Mileage is something that should be gradually built, based on your background and skill level in the sport, and your injury history (because an injury is a part of any sport you compete in, at a high-level). Working with a coach who monitors this, and adapts it to suit your goals and personal needs is the best path to success and reducing injury risk. The general rule of thumb is don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% a week, sometimes 15%. You should have down weeks too, particularly after harder training ‘blocks’. 

Training ‘blocks’ can be period of a few weeks (mine were generally 4-6 weeks), where there is a focus on something for a particular race or season. I know I can build the top-end speed fitness in 4 weeks that I need for faster track races, for example. My coach, team-mates and I work closely at this with race-specific workouts when the key races of the season are coming up. 

This is also known as ‘periodized training’. We can’t keep extremely high levels of intensity up all year round, as it is unsustainable. So we have times of base building, speed building, endurance building, strength…you get it. 

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I’ve never been a particularly high-mileage runner and personally have had success with this approach, and minimal injury particularly from increased running load-induced stress. My ultimate running training schedule involves 5-6 days of running, with 1-2 doubles (25-30 mins each), a swim session, and 2 running strength- specific sessions. I’d rarely go over 100km a week. Off this training, I’ve managed to qualify and compete in some pretty cool events, and run some nifty times. There’s no doubt I will creep my mileage up in the future at some point – try it, give it a go, test my limits. I don’t want to be left wondering. It’s a bit like Mario Andretti’s quote:

 

“If everything seems under control you’re not going fast enough” – Mario Andretti

 

Sometimes it is good to take some risks. Just know when it is the right time to test the waters here. 

What is Smart Running?

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Smart running is all about tapping into your personal needs, training and race goals, goals, and desires in life external to running and sport, injury history, and the context in which you are living in. To have the smartest approach to running, your program should be individualized and flexible. You and your coach should have open, honest communication which allows for program adaptability. I’ve been lucky to have this for the duration of my running career. If you don’t feel like you can communicate with your coach, then you might need to re-evaluate your training set-up to better suit your needs. 

 

“It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation” – Herman Melville

 

No one ever truly succeeds if they spend the majority of their time copying or imitating others. Don’t get me wrong, there is a great deal to be learned from coaches, mentors, training partners, elite-athletes etc, but these lessons should just be parts to building your ‘whole’. We learn a lot just from our own experiences in the sport. Whether this is in sessions, races, mentally tough situations, long-run banter and discussions with our training partners, running training through a global pandemic…..

I like to information gather when making decisions about the training approach. I’ll consult my coach, tap into how I feel, map out a rough training timeline calendar to key races. This ensures my preparation is optimal and doesn’t induce injury in the build-up. Further, it must be manageable with the rest of life’s commitments and hobbies. If you’re anything like me, you might enjoy a few things outside of running. In fact, I’ve found keeping up my hobbies like music and singing, surfing, skiing, doing outdoor activities with friends, website management and blog post writing, etc make me a better runner – as I’m my happiest self. So I stress to my teammates and friends who ask if you enjoy lots of things, find a way to achieve balance. Running more is not always better. It can help – but there is a time and place to increase and reduce load. 

How does stress impact running training and performance?

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My coach at Boise State has a good analogy for how stress can impact running training and performance. It also most often ends up trickling through other aspects of our life. We want a sustainable approach that is optimal for long-term success and caters to changing needs, goals, and shifting life situations. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when more things are out of our control. We need to focus on what we can control. 

My coach calls it the ‘cups’ approach. Bear with me. Imagine your life is balanced between different cups, that are each half-filled with water. Considering this analogy, most of us have cups for:

  • Work
  • School/College 
  • Social life
  • Family 
  • Sports/Exercise/Training
  • Recovery/downtime/me-time
  • Hobbies 

 

All these cups need to be balanced with certain amounts of water, not overflowing. This is optimal to reduce stress and anxiety in our life. Before you think, “that’s impossible” – hear me out. 

If 1 cup is overflowing with water, for example – a heavy load at work, something else has to give.  Some of that water needs to go somewhere else to balance the extra work stress out. 

If multiple cups begin to overflow, we start to spread ourselves thin. Don’t panic if this is you, especially at this time in the world at present. We just have to reevaluate priorities and potentially make a few shifts or changes to better suit our needs. 

So, next time you want to push your limits or step outside your comfort zone in training, for example, make sure your cups allow for this. Same for any other endeavor. You’ll recover better, perform better, and develop smart habits for the future. It’s establishing foundations for long-term success in running or whatever it is you want to do. 

 

Being a Student-Athlete in College

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Being A Student-Athlete in College

When you think college athlete or student-athlete, the common things that come to mind are becoming part of a college team, NCAA (national collegiate athletic association), high-quality fields of talented individuals, traveling to meets, fast cross country courses, lots of team gear, completing a degree, and moving out of home – potentially even overseas. All these things are a part of the student-athlete experience. I personally chose to come to the US and study at Boise State as a graduate/masters level collegiate athlete. I was offered a sport halfway through my undergraduate degree in Australia, after winning the 2017 U20 National Cross Country Championships. It was fair to say that this race changed my life forever. A bold statement, but sitting here at my computer now and reflecting on my first year living in Idaho, this is an extremely fair conclusion. 

It was difficult to make the decision to move my life overseas aged 21 when I felt comfortable in Australia with my coaching set-up and university team there. However, I felt like I needed to take on a new adventure. I wasn’t quite ready to go into the working world full-time (I tried this for half a year before I left), Sydney is expensive to move out of home in, and a collegiate athletic scholarship would provide me with the luxury of being ‘paid’ in a sense to do what I love, be a part of a team and make new friends, move out of home, live in a foreign country and see new places,  and experience the true long-term independence I had been craving. 

What does it mean to be a student-athlete?

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If you’re a student-athlete, you are expected to balance your academics, training, and college life – and do it well. I have improved my time management skills immensely, learning to prioritize and time-block (scheduling – I personally love to use Google Calendar) so I can travel to meets stress-free and perform at my best, and have the social life that I desire as a graduate student in a new country. This was a must for me. I am the best athlete I can be when I’m happy, which means a balance of social life, study (I study a master’s of music performance in vocal studies), and training. 

I had some idea of what to expect when I moved to America to study at Boise State as I had been in continual contact with the coaches, asking them numerous questions for over 9 months. I wrote a list every time I thought of a question and would cross them off as I asked them. The coaches were always willing to answer, and answer promptly. 

 

What are the benefits of being a college athlete?

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The support system is one of the biggest benefits. I’ll use my school, Boise State, as an example. The program here has been designed to optimize training and student-athlete health, so you can perform at your best and balance your other life commitments. We have multiple training staff that attends our training sessions, a team sports-performance psychologist, sports nutritionist, and some excellent athletic trainers and athletic training facility. We are allowed to visit the athletic training room 6 times a week if we wish and work with the athletic trainers to address niggles and injury concerns, and recover from training sessions/workouts. Often we go straight after practice, as the center is right near the athletics track. The room is decked out with foam rollers, compression boots, thera-guns, cupping, and dry needling kits, an ice bath, compression ice gear, heat packs, and a small rehab weights and equipment area. 

The Training

The training is slightly different from home, which is to be expected with any new coach and program. We keep with the standard recovery run, 2x workouts a week for the most part (including fartleks, tempo runs, track sessions, grass sessions), a mid-week longer run, a sprint session, and a weekend-long run to finish off the week. The main differences for me were the addition of pre-cross country season altitude training up in the hills and ski resort in the warmer months, the team-based focus including groups for workouts, and a very season centered workout approach (Outdoor, indoor track, and cross country). 

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Team Focus

There is no denying that team camaraderie and a team-based focus is crucial to student-athlete life. One cross-country season at Boise State was enough to show me the immense importance of working as a team in what is often regarded as an individual sport, and as a result, I have friends and training partners for life, all around the world. In cross country, it is so important that the team finish as high as possible, so we need the whole team to perform at their very best, to place well in meets. To do this, we must work together in race scenarios to optimize the result at the end. It is also important to mention that I love having people to run with all the time. I can choose whether I go solo on some days, but for the most part, it is nice to know that I always have friends up for a jog. 

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Finances

Yes, we do get a stipend. The university pays us a certain amount each month to cover living expenses such as groceries, rent, phone bills, potential car payments, and entertainment money. This will differ from university to university. 

Travel

Traveling and team camps are also another perk of being a collegiate athlete. In this past year, I’ve had the opportunity to visit states such as Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Indiana for competition, and explore heaps of Idaho. We also have a team camp once a year, which is a great way to meet new teammates, and have a weekend away in a cool part of Idaho. 

Student-Health Support and Athletic Trainers

I mentioned this earlier in the post, however, it is important to mention it as a massive benefit of being a student-athlete. We have amazing athletic trainers who help us manage niggles and injury, to get us running and healthy again. I also have worked with the sports psychologist and sports nutritionist to optimize my mental toughness and mental skills, and diet to match my energy needs. 

Student-athletes and academics: how do you balance it?

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A good college program will have an Athletic Department Academic Advising facility and resources. At Boise State, we have PRECO, a study area with printers, computers, and group study areas right where the athletic facilities are such as locker rooms, the weight room, and staff offices. For undergraduate students, they are expected to log a certain number of hours studying in the PRECO center – as a graduate student, this is not required, however, I took advantage of this resource to remove myself from the distractions of home. Our team academic advisor is brilliant – she handles inquiries about classes, difficulties with the competition, and class commitment and helped me keep on track with my academics over the past year.

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The school expects you to get a medium range GPA each semester, to meet the academic eligibility standards so you can compete in collegiate competition. Most student-athletes in the past 2 years have recorded an average of GPA 3.0 or higher. This is definitely achievable. It is truly about time management and making sure you work productively. Some tips I utilize include:

  • Work to your chronotype (early bird or a night owl, maybe you’re a bit of both!) I am an early bird – so I like to start my day with an hour of work, and then train. Or train, then work. 
  • We are more creative when we are tired, as our brains are more easily distracted. That’s why you come up with cool ideas right before you fall asleep. Keep a journal beside your bed to jot down anything you need, so you don’t forget
  • Eat the frog first – do your least favorite piece of work first thing. This way you’ll ease into the day better, and recover better from training by facilitating a less stressful environment in the evening. 
  • Make your to-do list visible. I pin mine up on the wall at the beginning of the day and have a sticky note open on my desktop. 
  • Make sure your workspace is neat and free of distractions. Maybe put the phone in a drawer on silent for a couple of hours?
  • Download f.lux for technology screen lightning that suits the time of day you are working. 

 

Can NCAA Athletes have jobs?

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If you are an American citizen, you can have a job anywhere in the city or on campus, and work the number of hours that suit you and fit in with your training load, academics, and social life. You just have to submit a form to the student-athlete compliance office to let them know you have a job and the details. There are rules set by the NCAA that you must meet to ensure you retain student-athlete eligibility. For example:

 

  • You can’t use your name, image or likeness to make money at current. However, there is debate and talk of change around this rule in the near future
  • You must be paid the going rate for the job you are doing
  • You must be hired under the intention that you are the right fit for the job, and not simply because you are a student-athlete.

 

If you are coming to the US from another country, the rules are slightly different. My F1 student visa allows me to work up to 15 hours at an on-campus job. It is more limiting in options than for a US Citizen, in this sense. The jobs are well-advertised and not too tricky to apply for. We use a platform called ‘Handshake’ and have careers advising center which was helpful for me when looking for an on-campus position last semester.

Any student-athlete can apply for internships if they are approved or organized by the athletics department. I know plenty of athletes that take advantage of this opportunity during the long summer break.

Fun facts about college athletes:

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  • When we travel, especially for track meets, in our free time we can often explore the city we are staying in. For example, when we traveled to Seattle we could explore some of the city in the evening if we wished
  • When recruits come to visit, often we will throw team events and dinners to introduce them to the team, the team culture, and show them around Boise. It’s super fun to be a tourist in your own city for a little bit. I’ve eaten at some nice places and met some lovely potential teammates by being involved in the recruiting process. I personally made an official visit to BSU before deciding to commit to the program. 
  • You can choose whether you live on or off-campus. I live off-campus and like this option, as I can separate school life from personal life more effectively 
  • We do get awesome new shoes often from our team sponsor Nike. We are very lucky to receive this support. It’s like Christmas every time we get a gear drop! 

 

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  • Yes, we do have a social life. Boise has a great down-town. I love to go dancing when it fits in with competition and training, it has great Italian, Mexican, Japanese (yes, including poke bars), Vietnamese, Thai food, and there’s even Himalayan which I recently discovered. It has a nice bar scene, including cocktail bars, distilleries, and wine tasting cellars. I’m over 21 now, so it is silly to deny that this isn’t a small part of my student life here. I’m an avid post-long-run beer fan. Shout out to Boise Brewing Company. 

How to Build Mental Toughness For Runners

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How to Build Mental Toughness For Runners

Running is a very physically tough, and psychologically demanding sport. Mental skills training for mental toughness is an essential ingredient in any pursuit that you desire to reach your full potential in and explore your boundaries. This goes for sport and life in general. We have to find that balance of physical and mental training and recovery. Interestingly, mental skills training fatigues the brain, as does a hard session fatigue the body – so we must train, recover, and adapt. 

Your mind can be your best friend or your own worst enemy. It’s important to establish some tools to utilize when out training, racing or facing your next physical challenge. To run at our very best, it’s important to recognize what your own strengths and weaknesses are. In doing so, you can take advantage of your strengths, and become more aware of areas you struggle a little more with. Think of it as optimizing your own mental toolkit. 

If you want to find out what your top character strengths are, take this quiz run through The University of Pennsylvania (yes, it has quite a few questions, but it should take way too long and it is reliable!). You’ll have to enter a username and email, don’t worry, you won’t get spammed. Take the Top 7 as your top character strengths. I did this, and my results showed my top strength was curiosity and interest in the world, the second was fairness, equity and justice, and third, creativity, ingenuity, and originality. I keep these in mind when I approach running training, teamwork, and racing. This way I can truly frame my running mindset to assist me in performing at my best. 

What is mental toughness?

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Mental toughness is the ability to perform at a high range of your potential consistently, under the ever-changing and often unpredictable conditions of competition and high-demand situations. A mentally tough individual will be able to execute their task with a desirable level of focus, determination, resilience, and calmness under stress and pressure.  

Mental toughness is often a key determiner whether you finish at the front or at the back of a pack. One study conducted on Australian footballers determined that the group that exerted the highest levels of mental toughness favored “both mastery- and performance-approach goals and self-determined as well as extrinsic motivational tendencies”. In the paragraphs below, I’ll go into more detail about these specific mental skills which can be adopted to develop mental toughness. 

The great thing about mental toughness is that it can be developed and trained, and studies have shown that it is innate to humans as it was a crucial characteristic that impacted survival ability in prehistoric times. We train mental toughness by building an ‘artillery’ of mental skills. These are characteristics such as focus, determination, dedication, resilience, performing in high-pressure settings, selective emotional ability under high-stress situations, confidence, perseverance, self-belief, the ability to work with a team, positivity in difficult situations and motivation (I’m sure there are many more you can think of!). Some of these character strengths you will find come more naturally to you, whilst others will require practice and work. Ultimately, it is about honing in and capitalizing on your strengths and improving weaknesses that could be beneficial to your sport or endeavor. 

We can build mental skills in a sports psychology setting or make time to deliberately practice them. We are kidding ourselves as dedicated sports people if we think that mental toughness is something that will come magically to us – it takes dedication and deliberate commitment to improve at anything and perform at a high level. I personally utilize sports psychology through the collegiate system. A general session involves assessing strengths and weaknesses, reflecting on the experience, and how I could go about the scenario next time. A sports psychologist or mental skills trainer will assist in building key areas to perform well at the particular discipline and to meet the personal needs of the athlete. 

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You’ve already taken the first steps to build your mental toughness by simply educating yourself on what it is. I found it super helpful for my own pursuits to learn that our body can actually go beyond our physical perception of pain and tiredness when we hit this stage in a race or hard training session. The voice in your head telling you to “slow down”, “stop”, “give up”, “this is too hard” is better known as the pre-historic brain/ monkey brain or mind/survival instinct mind. It is simply your brain trying to stop you from hurting yourself. It doesn’t know the difference between a race and a real situation of life-or-death. Just like your legs don’t know you are running a 10km race, rather than a hard 10km training session with your teammates. It’s all in your mind. Mental wandering and negative self-talk are the key inhibitors to us performing at our absolute physical best. This is why it is essential to train will-power, self-control and decision making under pressure. We need to find a way to automate decisions and execute a plan of some sort, to prevent the mind wandering. 

How does the mind work in a hard training or race scenario?

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When we race or train hard, the pain and discomfort we experience are from the emotional part of our brain, as I mentioned before. It is intended to protect us. We simply need to make a decision – the brain will process this decision based on a number of factors, including personal expectations coming into the event, past experiences in similar situations, level of desire to achieve (resilience, motivation, goals, perseverance), and stimulus feedback to the brain, including fatigue, fuel, environmental setting etc.

There are a couple of things we can do to calm the monkey mind, take the extra stress and anxiety out of the race day or hard session equation. Firstly, we can train our willpower. Will power is the ability to control your attitude, thoughts, feelings, impulse, and execute a task with clear, beneficial, goal-oriented decision making. You probably already exercise it in some sense – like setting an early morning alarm for training and not questioning whether you go or not. You just do, it’s not really a decision up for debate. Same with attending a hard training session you might be dreading. Unless injured or sick, show up and see how it goes – you may just surprise yourself. However, as humans, we only have so much will-power each day. Take into account that our will-power is highest earlier in the day, along with our ability to exert self-control. This is where the common notion of doing your hardest tasks earlier in the day, or first thing comes into play. 

The harder and more stressful the decisions,  the number of decisions, and the complexity of decisions all dip into our will-power stores. The goal is to make a lot of these decisions more automated (subconscious) and focus on the ‘when’ of the decision (timing is everything), rather than the how, which can cause extra stress if over-thinking occurs.

We want to capitalize on the time of day when we will make the best choices, and practice our strategy of will-power and decision making at this time of day to suit our needs. 

Just like physical activity requires recovery, so do mental reserves including will-power (recovery is just as important, it is where we get stronger, after being ‘broken down’ in some sense in training). If our willpower is low, our ability to make clear and beneficial decisions and exercise self-control is hindered. Physical fatigue will also contribute to lower will-power which in turn, impacts decision making + self-control. Sleep, adequate recovery, and nutrition can aid us in these areas. Athletes or high-achievers in any discipline should aim for at least 8hrs of sleep a night on most nights to perform at their best. It has even been stressed to me many times that 9-10hours is ideal – however many of us would struggle to do this in today’s busy world. Healthy, energy-dense meals are also key. Carbohydrates (in particular – glucose), fuel our brainpower. If you experience ‘mental fog’ or ‘blur’, this could be a reason why. 

 

What are some mental running strategies?

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  1. Set yourself some goals and intentions! You’re going to hate me when I say, ‘write them down’. Really – do it. Get it on paper, or record it via voice memo if you must. Whatever. It is just crucial that these goals become a physical manifestation in some sense. I like to stick mine on the wall. Goals work best if they are categorized: 

 

  • Process goals: this is the ‘journey’ as I like to put it. Where you’ll direct your focus and deliberate intention
  • Performance goals (short term and long term): aka. Some short term goals may be new PB in this 5km race or run comfortably for 10km. These goals help focus our execution and are the technical and strategic notch in our belt. A long term goal could be to qualify for a team, eventually run a marathon (make sure you do some very solid, consistent, long-term training to build up to this!)
  • The more detail, the better. List your hows, whys and ways of getting there. There are many paths to achieving a particular goal. 
  • Be flexible. Things change, life chucks curve balls. The more practice you have at adapting and adopting, the better off you’ll be long term. 

 

  1. Self- talk. You have to practice this. A great website I came across explains self-talk as: 

“Self-efficacy is the unshakeable belief of an athlete that they can meet the challenge they are facing. It is arguably the cornerstone for any great performance.” 

We must question our own inner dialogue. Are our thoughts mostly negative? positive? What emotion is behind most of our thoughts? Recognize your own patterns! Often our mental talk/self-talk is habitual. So if any bad habits have formed which are not of benefit to your performance, or hold you back in any way, it’s time to put in some work to change them. 

My in-race or session self-talk is very simple, involving just a few ‘cue-words’ that are easy to digest for the brain in a high-pressure, fatiguing situation, and don’t have any emotional association words involved in the phrase (things like good, bad, can’t, can etc.). My coach in Australia taught me to adopt ‘breathe, relax, momentum’. I have thought these 3 keywords for an entire 5km race. It worked a charm. If I felt my mind start to wander, I drew it back to these simple thoughts. I had already thought through my race execution plan, so this is all I had left to think about. Remember, on the track, course, court, field, meeting room- wherever you are trying to execute at your full potential and at a high-level – you are your own best friend or worst enemy. 

 

  1. Exercise your ability to be in control yet flexible to challenge and change. Often a scenario will change in a race very quickly. This is what makes them so exciting. You should be ready to adapt your plan and decisions based on perceptions and feedback. This is best practiced through hard training sessions and racing. Throw yourself in the deep end, and learn from mistakes, then try again. 

 

  1. Make decision making more automatic. The more decisions we can make subconscious, often the better. This is because less energy is used to make this particular type of decision. Again, racing and training is the place to practice and learn how to execute this mental skill. Personally, by the end of track season, I have cultivated a very personal plan as to how I best execute my distance (1500-10km). I take into account a sit-and-kick race situation, or a slow burn scenario, and go from there. I practice both conditions in training, so I can put my best foot forward if I need to sprint from home or maintain a high-pace for a longer period of time. I also learn to prioritize my decisions – don’t sweat the small stuff, particularly things you can’t control, such as the weather.

 

  1. Glucose levels! Not really a mental skill, but worth a mention. New research shows that a hit of glucose (in the form of glucose-rich food) can temporarily restore our mental strength including will-power and ability to make good in-race decisions. This is because to perform at our best psychologically/mentally requires adequate blood glucose levels in the brain. You hear about nutrition strategies in the marathon which is for physical and psychological benefit. However, the question being posed now is? Even in shorter races less than an hour in which our glucose levels will not be depleted too significantly, could a shot of it benefit our mental capacity? Food for thought. Literally. 

 

  1. Sleep. It is commonly known that 6hrs or less of sleep, particularly bad sleeping patterns over a long period of time will impact our mood, emotional capacity, ability to make good decisions, mental clarity, self-control, and will-power. 

 

  1. Learning to relax in a high-pressure scenario, such as a race. If we stress too early, we are draining energy, which is detrimental to our race. A way to practice this is to work on persevering when pain, fatigue, and tiredness hit us in training and less-important races, so we are ready for the big day/important side of the season. 

 

  1. Framing and perspective. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your expectations. Even expectations of others. You are only human, and I know most athletes don’t go through rigorous training to not put their best effort in on race day. We are not here to waste time and opportunity. If you don’t achieve what you desired, give yourself a certain time to be upset, and then move on and reflect, focusing on the next thing. The great thing about sport is there is always another race/event/challenge. Give yourself a pat on the back every now and then too. Running isn’t life or death, it is something we do, love, enjoy and at the end of the day, it should be fun!

 

Returning briefly to the mental framework – make sure you don’t do any mentally challenging activities too close to a race or difficult training session. This is because our ability to perform is hindered when we are mentally fatigued. Again, this involves will-power, which impacts decision making, emotional state, and self-control. The more we race and put ourselves under these high-pressure conditions, the more we train our will-power to work in a positive symbiosis with pain and onset fatigue. 

Does Visualization or Imagery help with training mental toughness for running?

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Visualization is the process of establishing mental imagery of how you might like to execute the race. This technique is a mental skill that should be a part of our mental skills ‘toolbox’, as I like to put it. It is how in ‘theory’ you can experience race day and run the race before you have actually run it. You can visualize pre and post-race processes, and the race itself. For example, this could involve the morning of the race, how you’ll feel warming up, and/or the race itself. In terms of race visualization, I personally like to mentally run through sections of the course and have a best-case scenario and plan B strategy ready to go. If you can see the racecourse beforehand, or have a map as a second-case scenario, base your visualizations off this. As this was my first cross-country season in the NCAA competition, I had to plan my visualization off maps, and then the day before the race after running on the course, I could base my imagery off the course itself. I actually enjoyed this process, as moving from map to the physical reality of the course allowed me to make mental connections which were much more memorable. Think of it as an ‘ah huh!’ moment, like when I realized that the hill we were jogging up on course inspection was the big long one I planned to overtake others on based off the course map we were given a few days before. For some athletes, it is possible to visualize their plan/s of execution from the start to finish. If this resonates with you and your scenario, go with this. 

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You do have to find the time to practice visualization. I like to practice before I go to sleep at night. This way, it is the last thing I contemplate for the day. I channel how I want to feel emotionally, how I envision my body moving across the course, how I will take certain corners, undulations, hills, and the finishing sections. Yes, it is detailed, but it is worth the effort. You’ll feel less nervous on race day, coming into it with a flexible plan of execution that is thought through. Consider making it a habit, and a part of your race day routine and strategy. 

How do you stay motivated to keep running and training?

You are in control of how you feel and choose to feel, and as soon as you can recognize this, you can start practicing your ability to exercise this and enhance it as mental strength. A good word for it is attitude.  I’m not saying emotionally regulate, we all feel tired and lack motivation sometimes, and in turn, heading out for a run or doing that tedious task you had on your list for the day is the last thing on your agenda. Acknowledge it, and then take action as to how you will approach the task ahead. Often, you’ll feel better having done it. Luckily in running, you get that lovely endorphin high, which is a natural mood booster. 

When I say ‘take action’, what I mean is to make the decision on your attitude. This can involve the decision to pump yourself up and carry out some mood-boosting actions or ease into the run with a sense of calm and mindfulness. As an athlete, you’ll need to figure out what these techniques are for you. I will go into some personal examples below. 

Motivation also correlates with expectations – you can set them for yourself or choose to let the run unfold more naturally. When I’m tired, I take it one step at a time like putting on my shoes, stepping out the door, and zoning out to a podcast. The best athletes in the world know what amplifies and intensifies their feelings (boosts their desire to train, in a sense). For me, it’s playing some high energy music, doing my hair in braids or in a potential race hairstyle I want to try, and putting on what I consider my ‘fast’ activewear. If I want to calm myself down after a stressful day, I will focus on my breath, or rope a friend or teammate into training with me if it is a solo session (it helps distract from the ‘tiredness’ or stress, which often we carry in our body). 

It is impossible to be in a high-energy, motivated state all the time, but we can develop the mental skills to get us out the door regardless of our emotional state. Who knows how you will feel on race day? Think of it as practice for that. Often goal-setting helps us stay on track and find that bit of motivation we need to push forward. I like to make it an unquestionable decision. Unless I’m sick or injured (and all the other situations I don’t need to list), I go. It is a part of my routine and I’m a better Lara to everyone if I do, no point in denying that!

Best Ultramarathon Shoes

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Best Ultramarathon Shoes

 

When you think ultramarathon, what often comes to mind is crazy long distances, rugged terrain, ascents and descents (elevation gain, maybe?), varied weather, aid stations, camaraderie, and a massive sense of accomplishment. An ultramarathon shoe is a tool and a very important one at that, that must be tried and tested in training so the runner can rely on it on race day. It has to endure the weather, terrain, and distances. Trail-running is a sport is becoming increasingly popular (especially in light of recent world events), so I thought this may be a good post to explore as the running community expands. In no particular order, I’ve looked at a few popular long-distance, ultra-marathon running specific footwear (trail ultras) – the tech, the fit, and the cost-point. 

Consider what terrain you’ll be spending a significant amount of time on, the distance covered, and potential weather conditions. Why? Because you’ll need to consider the sole and materials of the shoe, so they best suit the conditions. Personally, I like a shoe that works well in mud, on rocks and sandstone escarpments (where I run in Australia has a ton of this) and sand. I also like a sole where I don’t feel sharper surfaces or rocks putting pressure on the bottom of my feet and metatarsals. 

 

Shoe 1: Hoka One One Speedgoat 4

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In the trail and ultra community, this is a well-loved shoe. Having taken a pair for a spin myself, I really enjoyed how it felt like a true ‘race’ trail shoe. Lightweight, well-cushioned, and responsive. The sole isn’t overly aggressive either, so you can run a variety of trail terrain in them. However, the mid-sole of the shoe is particularly thick, so if you like that close to ground contact, and to really feel the heel-to-toe push off, this may not be the shoe for you. After all, Hoka are known for their cushioned shoes, with the rocker feature. If you know your trail shoes, you shouldn’t be surprised about this! The sole is Vibram, with excellent traction/grip- so it does work well on the trails. 

The stability is more on the neutral side, as to be expected from a trail shoe. This allows for better traction and responsiveness on uneven ground and reduces the risk of a dreaded sprained ankle. One thing I did notice about this shoe, is it is better suited for a narrow foot, such as my own. I struggled to find a trail shoe that fits as well as the Speedgoat did. It does fit true to size and width, from the description. 

This shoe has a heel drop of 4mm and weighs around 9.2 ounces for women, 10.8 for men.

 It prices around $145.

Shoe 2: Salomon S Lab Ultra 2

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This is also a highly-discussed and popular shoe in the trail-running world. Salomon promotes this as their ultramarathon specific shoe. Being the 2nd generation model, Salomon has had some time to up the game on the technical features. According to their website, they have improved the weight of the shoe, the durability and kept all the comfort features onboard. The shoe, in essence, retains its speedy trail race purpose. Salomon is known for making shoes that are durable and can deal with almost all terrain. Mud, snow, sand, tree-roots, wood-chips – you name it. The midsole is made of long-lasting polyurethane foam, which Salomon describes as ideal for ultra-running. Their outsole is made of what they term their ‘premium Wet Traction Contragrip’. Since it is a trail-racing designed shoe, I have read from reviews that it generally doesn’t last as long as others, especially if it has been put through the trials of an ultramarathon, or training for one.

This shoe weighs in at 285g (men), and an 8mm heel drop. It prices at $180, however, Salomon is offering it for $135 currently.

 

Shoe 3: Saucony Peregrine 10 

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Saucony promotes this as one of their best trail-running shoes, perfect for uneven and varied terrain, climbing, and descending. It is a neutral shoe, as per most trail running shoes, and is cushioned so they have comfort but still retain that responsive edge. This shoe is great for rocky terrain. Saucony has integrated a rock plate into the sole of the shoe, so you’ll be right on sharper stone surfaces. Further, the outsole has been made to work well in tough conditions that promote wear and tear. Some reviews have said the shoe is quite flexible and therefore is very responsive. Make sure to break this shoe in before you use it for longer runs, including an ultramarathon. 

This shoe weighs 10.7 ounces for men (303g) and 9.3oz for women (264g), and has a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. It currently retails for $120 as per Saucony’s website.

 

Shoe 4: Salomon Sense Ride 2

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Different from the S Lab Ultra discussed above, this shoe is perfect for both training and racing and works well on most terrain. This is the perfect shoe if you’re new to ultramarathon training and don’t want to invest in a specific racing shoe just yet. Salomon discusses their technologies for each part of the shoe. The outsole is what they label, ‘Contagrip MA’, which is a sole that is composed of different compounds of varied densities. In utilizing this material, different parts of the sole of the shoe can be harder or softer, as required for the style of shoe Salomon are designing. This ensures that the shoe will likely last longer on varied surfaces. Where the shoe is more likely to wear down (the edge of the heel, as an example), the compound will be higher density and more rigid as a result. The Midsole of the shoe uses ‘Vibe’ technology (it is written on the side of the shoe) – to which Salomon explains “attenuates vibrations” to optimize shoe responsiveness in contact with the ground. To put it more simply, the shoe is designed to absorb shock and adapt appropriately for the comfort of the wearer. The Chassis (the framework or membrane of the shoe to put it in other words, i.e, the insole board or structure), is designed to prevent feeling rocks or sharp surfaces on foot.

 

I do like how they used a quick-lace system for this shoe. It makes life a little easier. If you’re not a fan of this, you could buy laces to lace the shoe normally. I also like the rigid toe box so if you hit large rocks with the front of your foot, or trip up, you don’t get a nasty bloody toenail as a result. This is a big must for me when buying a durable trail shoe. 

The Sense Ride 2 has an 8mm heel drop, and weighs This shoe won’t break the bank, at $84, down from $120 as per Salomon’s website.

 

Shoe 5: Asics Gel-Fujitrabuco 8

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I have personally used these shoes and really enjoyed them. My feet feel supported for a trail shoe, and I don’t feel the rocks underfoot. For me, this is a big bother if the trail has a lot of stones and I know I’ll be out there for a while. The shoe has a rock protection plate in it, which is great. Asics praise this trail-running shoe for its comfort and durability, alongside excellent traction on the sole. I can confirm that the sole grip on this shoe is great, I’ve tested it out in some pretty muddy conditions, such as Boise’s wet, muddy foothills sand. It makes for a whole lot nicer of a run. 

In terms of shoe tech, Asics claim that their ASICSGRIP outsole has bettered the traction on the shoe for wet and slippery surfaces, and uneven terrain. Stability is also an important factor for those who require or desire a bit more support, especially over the ultra-distance. Asics explains that they have improved this on the latest model of the Fujitrabuco, compared to the 7. The shoes also have reflectors on them, great for racing or running at night (in which most ultra’s you will be!)

One thing I did notice was the shoe isn’t too heavy, even though it looks it from the photos online. I was quite surprised when it arrived and felt how light it was compared to my expectations. It weighs around 12.2oz or 346grams, with an 8mm heel drop. These shoes won’t hurt the wallet too much, coming in at around $130. 

What shoes do ultra-marathon runners wear?

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Ultramarathoners wear shoes that are going to last a few tough training sessions, race day, and perform optimally on trails which vary in terrain, incline and can last in unpredictable weather conditions. There isn’t one specific shoe that is going to work better than another as it isn’t one-size-fits-all. Also, most people are looking to spend within a range to suit their budget. I recommend trying shoes on in-store if this is possible, or ordering a few pairs and returning the ones that aren’t suitable. Most places allow for this, especially in these times. Otherwise, read up as much as you can on shoes, and get the advice of teammates, friends, or family in the sport (this is where this post can help out as well!) You’ll assist yourself on the path to achieving your best and being the best ultramarathon runner you can be in a pair of shoes which you feel the best in and are right for your foot type. Which leads perfectly into the next question….

 

What are the best shoes for running ultramarathons?

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Any one of the shoes discussed above may be right for you and your goals, training load, foot type, and injury history (if any, hopefully not too much). There are a few more brands that I didn’t discuss which do good ultramarathon running shoes. Here are some you can check out:

  • Altra
  • Innov
  • Merrel 
  • Nike Trail Running collection (Did you know they have a Nike Pegasus Trail? I love to jog in my Peg 36’s, and it was cool to learn there’s a trail shoe version of this model) I also hear the Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 6 isn’t a bad choice either)

As I always stress, take into account your foot type. For example, I have narrow feet, one foot is half a size bigger, and I pronate slightly more. So I’m going to look for a shoe that is slim fitting, doesn’t irritate the heel or Achilles of my bigger foot, and has slightly more stability or a stability piece integrated into the model of the shoe. Most ultramarathon shoes are neutral in design, as this is best for varied terrain and prevention of ankle sprains. The shoe is more flexible and your foot can adapt to the changes in terrain easier with this type of fit.

It’s also important to consider cushioning and heel-to-toe drop, as the higher the shoe is off the ground, the more likely you are to sprain an ankle. For me, this is a no-go, particularly when fatigue hits, and my step or stride is prone to becoming more clumsy in a race or session. 

 

What shoes do elite ultramarathoners train in?

The best wear the shoes they feel most comfortable and confident in. They definitely trial and test their shoes before race day, whether it’s in speed specific, race-specific or base-building training sessions. Know the shoe and how it works. I know of elite ultramarathoners who swear by Salomon and others who love Saucony. It really is about personal preference. Often companies that align better with the outdoors scene, trail running specifically and are known for durable, reliable gear, will draw in the ultramarathon crowd on a larger scale. 

 Keep in mind, most elites have a sponsorship of some sort, so it is likely they’ll be sporting a specific model of their sponsorship line of shoes. They’ll probably promote them too, on social media and on race day. Also, to end on a nice note, I saw plenty of these beautiful wildflowers which have just started to bloom on the trails today. What a beautiful time of year to be clocking in mileage….

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